Scientists have found that a vampire-like bacteria that leeches onto certain other bacteria – including certain human pathogens –could serve as a living antibiotic for a range of infectious diseases.
The bacterium, Micavibrio aeruginosavorus, was discovered to inhabit wastewater nearly 30 years ago, but has not been extensively studied because it is difficult to culture and investigate using traditional microbiology techniques.
However, Martin Wu and graduate student Zhang Wang at the University of Virginia’s College of Arts and Sciences, have decoded its genome and are learning “how it makes its living.”
The bacterium “makes its living” by seeking out prey – certain other bacteria – and then attaching itself to its victim’s cell wall and essentially sucking out nutrients.
Unlike most other bacteria, which draw nutrients from their surroundings, M. aeruginosavorus can survive and propagate only by drawing its nutrition from specific prey bacteria. This kills the prey – making it a potentially powerful agent for destroying pathogens.
One bacterium it targets is Pseudomonas aeruginosavorus, which is a chief cause of serious lung infections in cystic fibrosis patients.
“Pathologists may eventually be able to use this bacterium to fight fire with fire, so to speak, as a bacterium that will aggressively hunt for and attack certain other bacteria that are extremely harmful to humans,” Wu said.
“It is possible that a living antibiotic such as M. aeruginosavorus – because it so specifically targets certain pathogens – could potentially reduce our dependence on traditional antibiotics and help mitigate the drug-resistance problem we are now facing,” Wu stated.
The study has been published online in the journal BMC Genomics.